BP's "Burn Box" Ignites Oil Collecting on Gulf

BP burns oil leaked from its broken well on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in a 10-mile long by 10-mile wide area on the water's surface.

A field of fire out in the Gulf of Mexico, where leaked BP oil burns by the barrel, is known as the "burn box." Every barrel that burns there is one more that will never reach shore, CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

The "Explorer" is the command ship overseeing a fleet of smaller ships in the burn box. Two planes act as spotters to guide boats to heavy crude and calm seas.

Skimming boats dragging flame-resistant boom collect oil - like raking a pile of leaves - and push it into a target area for burning that's 10 miles long, 10 miles wide. That's the burn box.

"This is the first time we've ever used fire-resistant boom on a major spill event," Alan Allen, an oil spill consultant, said.

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Information from ships inside the burn box gets relayed to a command center in Houma, La., where coordinators watch in real time images of the day's burns along with all skimming operations around the area of the gushing well.

"Once the oil reaches the surface, that's our responsibility to do everything we can to minimize the amount of oil that could reach shore," Coast Guard Capt. Meredith Austin, deputy incident commander, said.

Once the oil's in place inside the boom box, a hand-held flare ignites the fire. Once lit, flames burn as much as 98 percent of the captured oil.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.